Tag Archive: Nicolas Jaar


1. The Field – Looping State Of Mind (Kompakt)

Topping this year’s chart is The Field’s “Looping State Of Mind”. The album, Axel Willner’s third, was the most, exciting, accomplished and wonderful releases of this year. Techno in its simplest form is music that can built using just a few loops and The Field expands on this method effectively; multiplying shimmering loops of vocals, synths and drums into one luscious, infinite circular track. Neatly building on the landscapes of his previous releases (“From Here We Go Sublime”, a collection of icy yet deeply affecting techno tracks, and “Yesterday and Today”, which covers a warmer krautrock-indebted area) to merge the best of both into a beautiful seven track blend of electronic music with warm synth arpeggios, droning, pulsing pads and that  Kompakt schaffel. The eponymous loops feel like they could last forever; building and dropping. Here’s to The Field’s next release.

2. Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise (Circus Company)

Much has been said of Jaar’s prodigious talent and his debut album has rightly gained critical praise. Blending Ricardo Villalobos-esque intricacy with jazz-influenced piano, super-slow techno rhythms, obscure French film dialogue, saxophone and Nicolas Jaar’s own surprisingly deep voice, the album is over-confident but endearingly so. At points coolly sexy (‘Keep Me There’ and the title track), delicate and wistful (‘Too Many Kids…’ ‘I Got A’) and ambient palate-cleansing washes “Space Is Only Noise” is a diverse, self-assured and engaging album and it is a testament to Jaar’s skill that he has delivered such a promising début

3. Morphosis – What Have We Learned (Morphine/Delsin)

Composed entirely with analogue equipment and recorded live over just three days, Morphosis’ first full-length is a collection of the gritty, percussive clatter that is a hallmark of dirty Berlin techno and haunting Arabic/Middle Eastern melodies (Morphosis is Lebanese), made all the more compelling as you can hear him hesitate and pull in and out of time while playing synthesisers on the live takes. Built on round bass drums, moody wanderings and foggy static with assertive grooves and synths that engulf the listener, “What Have We Learned” is the pure techno release of 2011.

4. Gang Gang Dance – Eye Contact (4AD)

Building from the suggestions of bright pop on a track such as ‘House Jam’ from their previous album ‘Saint Dymphna’, Gang Gang Dance have condensed their eclecticism and strengthened the melodies to create a highly impressive and ambitious record in the form of ‘Eye Contact’. Singer Lizzie Bougatsos works her voice as instrument, weaving among the layers of polyrhythmic dance beats, electro-influenced synth riffs and glassy arpeggios. Key track ‘Mindkilla’ combines unhinged dance grooves with Bougatsos’ menacingly singing the American lullaby ‘Mockingbird’, which encapsulates Gang Gang Dance’s approach for ‘Eye Contact’: ecstatic and woozy with an undercurrent of threat.

5. Laura Marling – A Creature I Don’t Know (Virgin)

The voices in the songs of “A Creature I don’t Know” often recall the female characters in John Steinbeck’s novels; their turn-of-the-century environment has hardened them and made them sexually ruthless and capricious. The spirit of Cathy who rips like a tornado through ‘East Of Eden’ possesses ‘The Beast’ and ‘Salinas’, Steinbeck’s place of birth. Yet the songs feel divorced from any particular time or place and lacking in obvious signifiers because Marling does without 21st century details and focuses on the timeless themes of love and desire. Brawling with these primal urges while ignoring current musical trends is a brave artistic choice and her use of symbolic language without putting forth her own personality give the songs the air of Marling as a centuries-old, wandering watchful spirit who has seen and lived everything. Her strengths lie in her commanding performance and her pure voice which carries equal weight whether in the middle of ‘The Beast’’s churning instrument storm or accompanied by just a guitar or piano.

6. Wolfgang Voigt – Kafkatrax (Kompakt/Profan)

In typically eccentric fashion, Voigt has super-imposed his face on to the head of Austrio-Hungarian writer Franz Kafka for the artwork of Kafkatrax. The strange merge goes further with the music contained inside. Every sound except the bass drum is taken from German audiobooks of Kafka’s work, the samples of which Voigt has then sliced, layered and stretched to create several voices speaking in fragmented words and vowels. The abstract stratification of the samples re-produce the paranoia present in Kafka’s writing while Voigt’s experienced hand in intangible dance music knits the sounds into alien and unsettling yet groove-filled techno tracks. If techno is an endless, moving machine then it is albums such as this that keep it in motion.

7. Bjork – Biophilia (Nonesuch)

Autumn was dominated by the exciting news of Bjork’s return after a four-year break and reports that her new album “Biophilia’ would be accompanied by synaesthesia-inspired iPhone/iPad apps. Bjork’s seventh album wonderfully demonstrates her innate use of beautiful harmonies and melodies which shine over delicate, glassy timbres and malevolent basslines and breathless, digitalised rhythms. Her voice and words anchor emotions to the album’s scientific influence and the thread of innocence and wide-eyed fascination that runs through her celebration of the universe prevents any feeling of pretence or aridity. Even after four years away Bjork continues to electrify and surpass.

8. Skudge – “Phantom” (Skudge Records)

The Swedish duo’s debut sells itself on aerodynamic, stripped techno indebted to Robert Hood and Basic Channel’s dense dub techno grooves. Fractured bass lines are countered with dramatic synth stabs, snapping claps and the determined looping rhythms of ‘90s German techno. Standout track ‘Eleven’, which features a solitary, eerie hook over tough bass drums and a lone reverberating clap, is a lesson in contoured, skeletal composition. Geared primarily for the club, the productions are a balance of tension and release that jack and groove for several minutes. Skudge are a dance duo who people should have on their radar for 2012.

9. Gui Boratto – III (Kompakt)

“III”’s intention is built on slow grooves and dark, searing techno. Twin tracks ‘Geluchat’ and ‘Stems From Hell’ sound like Boratto deep in the bowels of Berghain. ‘III’ is hard and confrontational, abrasive and pummelling. Although it isn’t as captivating as his best album “Chromophobia”, “III” continues to display his skill as a producer: the bass drum pounds, bass lines growl and groove and grainy synths coil and graze. His use of peaks and drops are masterful; they tease and reward the listener; pure peak time clubbing. It demands to be played loud.

10. Washed Out – Within and Without (Sub Pop)

As the cover art displays “Within and Without”, Washed Out’s first full-length, is a sensual, physical release. Benefiting from the production work of Ben Allen, who worked on Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion”, “Within and Without” features delicate compositional flourishes such as the reverb-drenched, evocative harmonies on ‘Amor Fati’ and the cracked snare on ‘Echoes’ reward repeated listens, especially on headphones. The gentle arpeggios, slinking beats and soft, pillow-y atmospheres add to the album’s tenderness; the songs are intended for love-making rather than fucking. Album closer ‘A Dedication’ is based on a fragile piano line and Ernest Greene’s most direct vocal performance is the post-coital cosy-up.

Honourable mentions

Perc – Wicker & Steel (Perc Trax)

“Wicker & Steel” recalls The Black Dog’s “Real Music For Airports” release from last year.  Techno, industrial and almost aggressively dystopian with, the vocal grunts on “Start Chopping” aside, very little to humanise the intense percussion and scratching textures of the album’s first third. Slipping out of the abrasive distortion of the opening tracks a sinister mid-section, featuring the deeply unsettling “Pre-Steel”, builds on a more restrained dystopia with dispersed beats, detuned synths and horror-film overtones. The final third kicks back to an overdriven, unrelenting pace, particularly on the track ‘London, We Have You Surrounded’, which some have appropriated as the soundtrack to the capital’s disturbing riots in August. “Wicker & Steel” is an album deeply attentive to its own coherency, consistency and range.

Lucy – Wordplay For Working Bees (Stroboscopic Artefacts)

Lucy bypasses the customary form and structure of techno for his début album. IDM, drones, oblique ambience and dub-techno combine to create a foreboding atmosphere filled with unusual timbres and textures. Partly composed of field recordings from Berlin’s streets and parks, the album’s title plays on the busy crowds concentrated on the city streets. The recordings tangle amongst disembodied vocals and abstract noises which build a sense of dissonant melancholia. When the 4/4 rhythm of  ‘Bein’ breaks out of the ambient climate it feels exotic and somehow forbidden as does album closer ‘Ter’ which filled with pattering percussion building to a stunning, hypnotic climax that contrasts the album’s darkness.

Planningtorock – W (DFA)

Planningtorock’s (Janine Rostron) second release is rooted in the expression of her sexuality which is conveyed by the sweaty atmosphere that recall the cabaret clubs of her adopted home Berlin. Her pitched-down masculine voice drawling sensually “I know my feelings” on opener ‘Doorway’ and “I’m a believer of circular/suckular love” on ‘Manifesto’ coupled with lavish, thick orchestration throughout makes “W” a challenging but rewarding album.

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Liam’s Top Ten Albums of the Year… so far

Honourable Mentions

Peaking Lights – “936” – is  a lo-fi take on Dub that manages to cover a lot more ground than many of their more lauded peers. I can understand why the band have been compared to fellow Not Not Fun artist Sun Araw as they share many of his similar aesthetics (humid, reverb and delay heavy sound) and principle instrumentation (extended guitar lines, organ, repetitive but meandering vocals). Tom Tom Club also seems like a good reference point particularly for the vocals and ‘All the Sun That Shines’ and ‘Bird of Paradise (Dub Version)’. Definitely an album that’s worthy of soundtracking this summer like ‘On Patrol’ by Sun Araw soundtracked last summer.

Mogwai – “Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will” – a mixed bag from Mogwai (a band that has been criticised in the past for producing overly samey music across an album) featuring both the familiar epic post-rock tracks that made them an internationally known force and new directions for the band including using a vocoder and development of Neu! and New Order style rhythms and grooves on ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ and ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’. I’ve read a lot of negative things about the use of the vocoder and more vocal tracks on this album and can’t say I agree with these opinions. The vocoder is employed subtly and sparingly and Stuart Braithwaite’s vocals have always been a good addition to Mogwai’s music and suit the song he sings on here. Overall I think this is Mogwai’s best album since ‘Happy Music for Happy People’ (2003).

Talib Kweli – “Gutter Rainbows” –  a return to form for Kweli after the overly commercial and guest heavy ‘Eardrum’  (2007). Kweli seems to more at ease and freer, the album’s tone and variety a sign that he may have been under pressure from Warners while making ‘Eardrum’. It’s also telling that all the guests and producers who appear on this album aren’t established major label artists/producers and I think that’s a big contributing factor. The quality on the album only really drops once for ‘How Do You Love Me’ which is a little too limp and sloppy amongst tracks that have a lot more bit and depth. The major highlights are ‘Cold Rain’ (production by Currency producer Ski Beats) and Jean Grae’s appearance on ‘Uh Oh’, however its Kweli whose personality comes across strongest, on what could be his best album yet.

Beastie Boys – “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two”

The Beasties Boys return to form after two patchy albums, full of short punchy songs that for the most part share a minimalist, lo-fi approach. It’s the Beasties gone back to basics and with found a new lease of life that explores new territory (for them) while remaining 100% Beastie Boys. Established with love this, new converts may well join the cause – all in all a triumph from restless creators always looking to evolve.

Dels – “GOB”

Dels has produced an authoritative début album that balances catchy, memorable tunes with experimentation, unexpected twists and turns and a signature sound that he can manipulate to give the album a curve. He starts with the heavy hitting, bouncy electro inspired tracks but the second half to that album covers more serious topics including the recent political problems in the U.K. and rape. Dels is able to change the pace and the atmosphere to suit these changes in subject and this is proof of an artist with more than one string to his bow and great future ahead of him. A Hip-Hop artist with substance to match his unique style.

Top Ten

10. White Denim – “D” – Though it may not be the album of the year I rashly predicted at the start of the month, though it has to be said ‘Anvil Everything’ and ‘Drug’ were pretty exciting tracks to be released in the run up to release. However this album is by no means a wash-out, it begins with a slightly misleading slice of Southern Rock but some reveals a diverse range from an ever developing and maturing band. From the wah-wah funk of ‘Burnished’ to the emotional ‘Street Joy’ via Latin rhythms of ‘River to Consider’ and many points in between this album is well worth investigation and like other White Denim album will probably prove to be another grown, rewarding repeated listening.

9. Low – “C’Mon” – A great album of two halves that sees Low experimenting with poppier sounds on the first half of the album and on ‘Something Turning Over’ while the reminder of the album revisits older sounds and influences but does so while providing some great songs. Some Low fans won’t (and don’t) like the poppier material but I think it can be seen as another string to their bow and not a conscious attempt to sell out. This is not a band producing Top Ten hits, but one dripping its toe into unknown waters and successful completing an experiment. The fact this album was recorded in a Duluth (Low’s home town) church gives the slow more open tracks and fantastic atmosphere and ambience and complaints some great songs. Once again Low show the patience and subtlety can go along way in a music world that seems constantly looking for something innovative and over simulating.

8. Chancha Via Circuito – “Rio Arriba” – A great hip-hop album that potential points a new way forward and demonstrates that there are really skilled producers working out the mainstream and America who can compete with their U.S. contemporaries. A breath of fresh Columbian air, this producer neatly side steps the comparisons to Jay Dilla to crave out his own unique style.

7. Tamikrest – “Toumastin” – Another great Taurag (desert blues) album that throws down the gauntlet to Tinariwen (whose next album is out 29th August). Though there’s a lot of familiarity to the Tamikrest sound these young men find a way of subtlety incorporating new influences into the template. From the funk bass that underpins ‘Tidit’ and ‘Tarhamanine Assinegh’ to the Western rock guitar of ‘Adjan Adaky’ and magnificent closer ‘Dihad Tedoun Itran’via the regular and clever employment of female vocals as a counterpoint to a very male sound, this shows there is more to Taurag than fans already know. The band masterful conquers both the more groovy based and moody and downbeat material with confidence and ease. A great album from a band full ideas and possible yet to reach their full potential.

6. TV on the Radio – ‘Nine Types of Light’ – This acts as a laid back sunny counterpart to their previous album ‘Dear, Science’ (2008). However, this isn’t an album that should be considered light or lacking in substance. Instead it’s a successful move into new territory for a band that continues to develop, improve and with this show that may just be one of the best bands of the last ten years. The album’s brighter moments indicates a softer R&B influence though in the latter stages of the album the band show their darker side on tracks like ‘Forgotten’ that strongly reminds me of the dense atmosphere of second album ‘Return to Cookie Mountain’  (2006) but always demonstrates what they have learnt since about space and light and shade. An album that proves sweet and sour can co-exist and that light is variable alternative not corporate cop-out.

5. Paris Suit Yourself – “My Main Shitstain”‘ – An eclectic début album is held together by a similarly punk spirit and commanding vocalist Luvinsky. The band produce a unique blend of street music that takes from soul, punk, post-punk and hip-hop while subtle embracing modern technology. The band is unafraid to wear to heart politically and graphically on its sleeve and are obviously confident in their own ability and style!! The world is there’s and I fully expect them to take it and make it their own.

4. Toro Y Moi – “Underneath the Pine” – From its chiming and droning intro track right through to the last rhythmic charge of ‘Elise’, it does no wrong. A fantastic concoction of ’80s style funk rhythms and grooves matched with emotive soundtrack backing, expert use of effects processing and the glorious rush of good pop music, a leap forward from his impressive début ‘Causers of This’. In the past its been difficult to pin down Toro Y Moi’s sound and find useful reference points but recently mid 90’s Stereolab seems apt for this playful experiment in pop music.

3. Wagon Christ – “Toomorrow” – It would be easy to dismiss this album as a repetition of everything that Vibert has done as Wagon Christ and there is some truth to that. However, he has produced an eclectic album full of great tracks (there’s not a duffer to be found) that will please hardcore Vibert fans and those new to this long-term dance music fixture. A must for fans of Ninja Tune, Warp and Planet Mu most esoteric output!!

2. tUnE-yArDs – “w h o k i l l” – tUnE-yArDs delivers on what was hinted at on her début album ‘Bird-Brains’, strong vocal performances and use of vocal layers are an ever-present as are the hip-hop rhythms that dominated her début. She also brings a host of surprises, the processing of vocals through a modular synth, pop melodies that pack a punch and day-glo indebted to both African music and dub yet at the same time all of her own. Though the album dips towards the end ‘Doorstop’ and ‘You, Yes You’ show there are yet more directions in which tUnE-yArDs sound can be developed. All-in-all a great album from a unique artist.

1. Gang Gang Dance – “Eye Contact” –  A breathtakingly ambitious album that brings together North African guitars, club beats, Indian pop vocals, grime and electro synth bass, twisted synth arpeggios are all bought together and work where it should fail spectacularly. There’s a new found clarity and a massive step-up in the quality of the tunes on ‘Eye Contact’ this is the record that their last album should have been and impress instant, whereas in the past songs were either growers or too awkward to be properly embraced. Interestingly after a few listens it becomes clear there’s some strong links to “Merriweather Post Pavilion” by Animal Collective (who are both friends and contemporaries of Gang Gang Dance) the use of psychedelic electronics and rhythms rooted in hip-hop are present on both albums. However, Gang Gang Dance add plenty to this and produce their own unique sound. An interest coincidence is that “Merriweather Post Pavilion” was Sonic Fiction’s Album of the Year 2009 and this is currently in poll position for this year. Will it still be No.1 in December?

Spotify playlist:

Liam’s Albums of the Year 2011 … so far

Vier’s Top Five Albums of the Year 2011… so far

5. Lucy – “Wordplay For Working Bees” (Stroboscopic Artefacts) Lucy bypasses the traditional form and structure of techno for his début album. IDM, drones, oblique ambience and dub-techno combine to create a foreboding atmosphere filled with unusual timbres and textures. Partly composed of field recordings from Berlin’s streets and parks, the album’s title plays on the busyness of the crowds assembled on the city streets. The recordings tangle amongst disembodied vocals and abstract noises which build a sense of dissonant melancholia. When the 4/4 rhythm of  ‘Bein’ breaks out of the ambient climate it feels exotic and somehow forbidden as does album closer ‘Ter’ which filled with pattering percussion building to a stunning, hypnotic climax that contrasts the album’s darkness.

4. Planningtorock – “W” (DFA) Planningtorock’s (Janine Rostron) second album is rooted in the expression of her sexuality, which is conveyed by the swagger and sweaty atmosphere that recall the cabaret clubs in her adopted home of Berlin. The lascivious drawl of her pitched-down voice (as demonstrated with: “I know my feelings” on opener ‘Doorway’ and “I’m a believer of circular/suckular love” on ‘Manifesto’) coupled with staccato strings and thick, sensual orchestration makes “W” a powerful and rewarding release.

3. Morphosis – “What Have We Learned” (Delsin/Morphine) Composed entirely with analogue equipment and recorded over three days, Morphosis’ first full-length is a collection of gritty, percussive clatter that recalls the dirtier side of Krautrock. Built on round bass drums and foggy static with assertive grooves and synths that engulf the listener, “What Have We Learned” is the techno release of the year.

2. Gang Gang Dance – “Eye Contact” (4AD) Building from the suggestions of bright pop displayed on a track such as ‘House Jam’ from their previous album “Saint Dymphna”, Gang Gang Dance have condensed their eclecticism and strengthened the pop melodies to create a highly impressive and ambitious fifth album. Singer Lizzie Bougatsos works her voice as instrument, in a way that justly recalls Karin Dreijer Andersson and Bjork, weaving it among the layers of polyrhythmic dance beats, electro-indebted synth riffs and glassy arpeggios. Key track ‘Mindkilla’ combines unhinged world-dance grooves with Bougatsos’ menacingly singing the lullaby ‘Mockingbird’, which encapsulates Gang Gang Dance’s approach for “Eye Contact”: ecstatic and woozy with an undercurrent of threat.

1. Nicolas Jaar – “Space Is Only Noise” (Circus Company) Much has been said of 22 year-old Jaar’s prodigious talent and his first album is rightly garnering critical acclaim. Blending Ricardo Villalobos-esque intricacy with jazz-influenced piano, super-slow techno rhythms, obscure French film dialogue, saxophone and Nicolas Jaar’s own surprisingly deep voice, the album is over-confident but endearingly so. At points coolly sexy (‘Keep Me There’ and the title track), delicate and wistful (‘Too Many Kids…’ ‘I Got A’) and ambient palate-cleansing washes “Space Is Only Noise” is a diverse, self-assured and engaging album and it is a testament to Jaar’s skill that he has delivered such a promising début in place of what could otherwise have been a pretentious clutter.

Honourable mentions:

Wolfgang Voigt – “Kafkatrax” (Profan) In typically eccentric fashion, Voigt has super-imposed his face on to Austrio-Hungarian writer Franz Kafka’s head for the artwork of Kafkatrax. The strange merge goes further with the music contained inside. Every sound except the bass drum is taken from a German audiobook of Kafka’s work, the samples of which Voigt has then sliced, layered and stretched to create several voices speaking in fragmented words and vowels. The abstract stratification of the samples re-produce the paranoia present in Kafka’s writing while Voigt’s experienced hand in intangible dance music knits the sounds into four alien yet groove-filled techno tracks.

http://www.kompakt.fm/releases/kafkatrax_1/embedded

http://www.kompakt.fm/releases/kafkatrax_2/embedded

Spotify playlist:

Vier’s Albums of the Year 2011… so far

Argument for

“Bad artists copy. Good artists steal.” – Pablo Picasso

Sampling has always provoked controversy and furious debate since its humble beginnings when Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa looped the breakbeats from rock, funk, jazz and soul records so that breakdancers could show off their best moves. This debate will focus on sampling and sampled based music’s validity, leaving aside the often discussed and sticky issues of copyright. I will be arguing for sampling as a legitimate form of expression and an experimental tool that re-contextualises musical elements into new and sometimes unexpected juxtapositions. I will also look at how sampling and sampling technology developed and its impact on the possibilities for those musicians and producers who exploited its power. By sampling I refer to any manipulation of pre-recorded audio and thus I’ve included scratching and turntablism.

Even in its earliest construction at street parties and clubs in New York in the late 1970s sampling was about the re-contextualisation and manipulation of the source material. The extending of breakbeats by Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa dramatically altered the structure of the original pieces of music and the breakbeats took on a new life as a tool in a DJ’s weaponry. With  Grand Wizard Theodore’s invention of scratching and Grandmaster Flash’s development of key techniques the manipulation took to another level. It created new rhythms within a DJ’s set and they could apply their own skill and personalities, which created a new energy and competitiveness that drove the DJs and the music forward. Scratching created rhythms out of abstract sounds which acted as ‘exciters’ for their audiences. Grandmaster Flash showcased his virtuoso knowledge and a series of jar dropping juxtapositions on 1981’s ‘The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel’. The record used segments of Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ (which name checked Flash), Micheal Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band’s ‘Apache’ (the breakbeat from which became a classic sampling staple), ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ and ‘Good Times’ by Queen and Chic. ‘…Wheels of Steel’ was the first commercially released record to feature scratching and a style that soon became a main part of the then unnamed turntablism.In the mid 1990s Babu of the Dilated Peoples invented this term to give scratch DJs a solid identity separate from others. Babu believes the first turntablist was Grand Mixer DST who featured on ‘Rockit’ by pioneering jazz musician Herbie Hancock in 1982. As Babu put it, ‘he was not only an integral part of the song or band, he was the highlight’. The now legendary television performance of ‘Rockit’ at the 1983 Grammy Awards inspired the next generation of scratch happy turntablists who I’ll be covering later in this piece.

“The turntable is a musical instrument as long as you can see it being a musical instrument. You’re dealing with notes, you’re dealing with measures, you’re dealing with timing, you’re dealing with rhythm but the outcome is the same music” – Rob Swift, The X-ecutioners.

As hip-hop was exploiting the turntable as a new musical instrument and creating unpredictable musical juxtapositions so was experimental artist Christian Marclay who in 1979, when unable to find a drummer for a performance alongside guitarist Kurt Henry, used a skipping record as a percussive instrument. By the late ’80s Marclay was making waves with his albums ‘Records without Grooves’ (1987) and ‘More Encores: Christian Marclay plays the records of…’ (1989). His techniques varied from playing back damaged records, scratching, assembling together bits of different records to played as one and creating wild juxtapositions between music often at polar opposites of the musical spectrum. One of best examples being ‘His Master Voice’ which combines the sound of “a preacher railing against rock ‘n’ roll with “push, push in the bush” disco, Wagnerian chorales, metal guitar solos and Don Ho” all flitting in and out of focus. There is little difference between what the hip-hop pioneers and Marclay did yet the results are different, proof that the turntable was beginning to develop as an alternative to traditional instruments and traditional ideas about musical composition and performance. They are also the first example of sampling as a re-contextualisation tool, taking from multiple and widely varying sources to create new musical creations and languages in both hip-hop and avant-garde contexts.

The original sampler keyboard, a Fairlight CMI used by ’80s pop acts such as Art of Noise, Heaven 17 and producer Trevor Horn, who aided the acceptence of sampling by the mainstream music press and audience, was superseded by more advanced samplers while the avant-garde began to make inroads into sampling and turntablism using accidents and the effects of worn vinyl.

There was however a link between all these disparate strands and that was Public Enemy who produced a master class in pushing the basic sampling technology to its outer limits on ‘It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back’ (1988). Public Enemy didn’t just sample a break and lay another sample on top; they tested the samples to destruction. They achieved this by pitching the samples up or down, time stretching and using other non musical sounds to create a musical maelström that summed up their emotional and political feelings. The  sound scape built reflected the atmosphere of their New York environment. This was one of the first great examples of how to truly re-contextualise sample. Rather than superimposing the sample into a new musical environment, Public Enemy were changing the tempo, tone, pitch, timing and even the idea of what elements were. ‘…A Nation Of Millions’ blurred the lines: a trumpet could be a siren and siren could be a trumpet, a breakbeat could be broken and reconstructed, nothing was static anymore. Meanwhile in the UK sample based dance music records had took hold in 1987 with the release of M/A/R/R/S ‘Pump Up the Volume’, which became the first UK No.1 to feature samples of other songs. The track paved the way for the rave generation to fully embrace sampling and take it to new places and inadvertently inventing the mash-up over 15 years before the term came into use.

As the 80s rolled into the 90s the sampler became an increasingly important part of dance music and almost completely replaced the synthesiser as the main ‘instrument’ or piece of technology. Roger Linn designed the Akai MPC series of sampler/sequencers and the MPC 60 was based on the Linn 9000 sampler that previously he had  built. This series allowed the user to sample, pitch shift, time stretch and to program using the velocity sensitive pads and sequencer provided. The MPC-60 was used by jungle pioneer A Guy Called Gerald, trance producer BT and Apollo 440 as well as leading hip-hop producers DJ Premier and DJ Shadow.

Akai continued to push the technology forward by introducing CD quality audio and increasing sampler memory and note capacity. One of the most vital records of the sampling era was produced using just a MPC 60, a pair of turntables and a borrowed Pro Tools set-up: ‘Endtroducing…’ by DJ Shadow. Shadow was a turntablist that took sampling beyond purely musical function, he created sampledelic tracks infused with atmosphere and emotion that changed the very idea of what a hip-hop record could be and what even basic sampling technology could do. He wasn’t alone in challenging these ideas as DJ Spooky who also debuted in 1996 with ‘Songs of a Dead Dreamer’ was a turntablist ‘whose philosophy merges avant-garde theories of musique concrète with the increased devotion paid to mixing techniques’. Spooky believed that the turntable was an instrument in its own right capable of expressive musical composition and manipulation. Equally influenced by John Cage and Kool Herc he provides a link between the avant-garde work of Christian Marclay and Japan’s Ground Zero and that of hip-hop’s most far out turntablists DJ Q-Bert and Mixmaster Mike. A more direct contemporary with Spooky is DJ/Rupture who shares some musical influences (hip-hop and dub) and both create extreme music: Spooky’s is ambient (or illbient) and Rupture’s is more experimental and aggressive and utilises ethnic influences.

As the noughties dawned dance music seemed to catch-up with hip-hop, turntablism and the avant-garde. Sample heavy releases like The Avalanches’ ‘Since I Left You’ from 2001 demonstrated that dance music could produce something on a similar scale and weight as ‘Endtroducing…’ and shed some of dance music’s gimmicky use of samples. Though sonically different from DJ Shadow’s work, ‘Since I Left You’ had an advanced complexity that had been left relevantly untouched since the days of A Guy Called Gerald’s pioneering early 90s albums. Mash-up culture and sample based releases exploded after this; one of most critically acclaimed artists being Girl Talk (Greg Gillis). Gillis has often been in the middle of controversy about his employment of sampling and has featured in two documentaries about copyright: Brett Gaylor’s ‘Rip: A Remix Manifesto’ and ‘Good Copy, Bad Copy’. The peak of Girl Talk was ‘Feed the Animals’ from 2008. Originally conceived as a single piece of music which Gillis then sliced up into individual tracks made completely from samples of other recordings, the album was released under a Creative Common’s Attribution Non-Commercial Licence, which meant he had to fully credit all material sampled in the sleeve notes to legally profit from its sale.

Recently sampling has seen the emergence of a young generation of music makers influenced by the sample employing hip-hop and dance artists that dominated the ’90s. Artists are using samples as a starting and/or finishing point for compositions like Washed Out’s most popular song so far ‘Feel It All Around’, which revolves around Gary Low’s ‘I Want You’. Pantha du Prince explains that he takes a slightly different approach, ‘I sampled a lot of bands. Then I took the samples out in the end. I took the samples in, made the track, and took, for example, the melody or the chorus and then I took the track out again. With The Chills you can only hear it at the beginning and the end.’

Conclusion

With so many approaches to re-contextualisation how can sampling not be a valid form of musical expression? It is no longer as easy for those that oppose sampling to dismiss it as lacking in originality or depth. Technology’s development and the artists above has shown that it’s possible to create new pieces of music that emotionally connect with their audience or elicit a new physical movement or mental association that didn’t previously exist. Whether it is through  using turntables as instruments of re-contextualisation in hip-hop and avant-garde, a dance for creating euphoria in dance or nostalgia in newer genres such as chillwave, a sample is the inspiration for a song or the icing on the cake to finish it off. How ever artists choose to use and manipulate samples it is a strong relevant form of expression with a lengthy history on which to draw.

Argument against

To argue against sampling in this debate I will look at sampling’s claim to re-contextualise pieces of music by tailoring them into new compositions and the idea of sampling as a form of colonialism.

The claim that sampling re-contextualises a piece or pieces of music is naïvely reductive and  a complex and detailed idea simplified. We accept an artist or recording does not exist in a vacuum untouched and unaffected by outside forces and when we discuss a recording we are also discussing its context, its discourse. Transplanting a 16 bar loop from one recording to another does not and cannot alter its original context as it is intrinsically steeped in its discourse. The musical context has been altered but an entirely new, modern context has not been created. Discourse is not something ignorable, it is part of the fabric of a recording and an essential element in what makes that recording identifiable and understandable therefore sampling is capable only of stitching together pre-existing contexts not creating new ones. That transplanted 16 bar loop is still particular to a recording created at a specific time by a specific artist and is identifiable as such. Its context has not changed.

It is possible to link sampling to colonialism: taking work from one artist, sometimes without payment or accreditation, for the commercial gain of another taps into the dishonest domination of one force over others, similar to the discussion in the Cultural Tourism article. In an interview with Hybrid Life, Nicolas Jaar talks of his feelings towards sampling, “Of course the problem with this is the colonial problem, like imperialistic…I have absolutely nothing against Cadenza, but the song ‘La Mezcla’. They can pay whatever to…the person that did it. I could never have someone steal the core of (one of my records) like that. Simply because of this weird colonial thing, for me it can’t not have that context. Maybe for most people dancing it doesn’t have that context, but for me there’s the driven techno and then on top there’s some crazy Spanish lady singing. It’s not honest! I understand how it’s appealing, and I understand how it sells, and I understand that’s the world we live in…but I wouldn’t want to do that.” As Jaar points out taking from one recording and adding it to another could be construed as theft and in turn dishonest and thus dishonest musicianship. An important attraction of equipment like Recycle, Ableton and turntables is that it easily endows users with the advanced ability to unrecognisable transform a record sample and scatter it into a new composition, which feeds into the musically fraudulent colonial tendencies of artists who sample and leads back to the discourse in recordings discussion.

  <span><a href=”http://soundcloud.com/nicolas-jaar/love-you-gotta-lose-again-mn”>Love you gotta lose again /// Nicolas Jaar (Double Standard Records)</a> by <a href=”http://soundcloud.com/nicolas-jaar”>Clown and Sunset</a></span>

The borrowing from past records for the bulk of new material in genres such as hip-hop and the (over)use of certain familiar passages leads to a repetitive language of sounds and aesthetics and there will be, or already is as suggested by The Guardian’s recent article on hip-hop sampling, an inevitable exhaustion of vintage albums, which leads to a possible debate highlighting hip-hop’s contradictory braying pride of having the newest, most innovative sound but using aged, and at times conventional, recordings. An ideology of employing the past to build the future does not create previously unheard music, a new item or a new context, as explained early, it is solely an adapted preceding and inherent discourse.

Vier

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Sampling debate

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